Wednesday, February 29, 2012

Celebrating the 1961-62 Toronto Maple Leafs

Prior to the Leafs and Caps game on Saturday February 25, 2012 members of the 1961-62 Stanley Cup team were honoured.

Gathered at centre ice in the Air Canada Centre were: Johnny MacMillan, Bob Nevin, Larry Hillman, Red Kelly, Johnny Bower, Eddie Shack, Dick Duff, Bobby Baun, Bob Pulford and George Armstrong.

Unable to attend the party was: Al Arbour, Bert Olmstead, Dave Keon, Frank Mahovlich, Allan Stanley and Ron Stewart. No longer with us are Don Simmons, Carl Brewer, Tim Horton, Eddie Litzenberger and Billy Harris.

The above nucleus formed the roster for the 1961-62 edition of the Maple Leafs. The line combinations consisted of Kelly between Mahovlich and Nevin; Pulford between Olmstead and Shack; Keon between Duff and Armstrong. Filling out the bench and always ready when called upon were Harris, Litzenberger and Stewart.

Protecting Bower and Simmons in goal were Horton and Stanley along with Baun and Brewer. Sharing the role of fifth defenceman were Hillman and Arbour.

The crowning win in April 1962, kicked-off three straight Stanley Cups for the Toronto Maple Leafs. As is always the case, the first taste of victory is always the sweetest.

On September 10, 1961, fifty-seven candidates gathered in Peterborough Ontario for the opening of training camp. Before hitting the ice, medicals were conducted by Dr. Jim Murray, Dr. Hugh Smythe and Dr. Joe Fulton. Trainer Bobby Haggert helped to work out some kinks by putting the players through their calisthenics. On ice drills were pencilled in for 3:00pm and 7:30pm.

Two individuals were granted leave from the early portion of camp. Defenceman Carl Brewer was absent due to the passing of his father. Goalie Johnny Bower was excused to look after some business concerns.

The training camp roster consisted of a nice blend of veteran talent and guys hoping to crack the line-up. General manager Punch Imlach, fresh off of signing a new three-year contract in the summer, was known to lean on older players. This didn't mean he ignored a gift-horse when one was presented. In 1960-61, rookie Dave Keon proved he belonged in the NHL. At camp in 1961, Imlach had a large contingent of junior players on hand. It was an opportunity for the likes of Larry Keenan, Bruce Draper, Arnie Brown and Gerry Cheevers to strut their stuff.

One of the interesting battles in camp involved the starting goaltender position. It was expected incumbent Johnny Bower would be challenged by Don Simmons. A native of Port Colborne Ontario, Simmons was obtained by the Imlach from Boston in exchange for fellow goalie Ed Chadwick on January 31, 1961.

Besides the objective of rounding their players into shape, every organization hopes to avoid the injury bug in camp.This is often difficult to accomplish when jobs are on the line and players are trying to make an impression. A confrontation between Bob Nevin and Johnny MacMillan resulted in a nasty gash being inflicted on Nevin's nose, courtesy of his teammates stick.

Following five days of camp, Toronto played their first exhibition game against the Boston Bruins in Niagara Falls Ontario. The robust action from the training sessions spilled over when the two clubs faced-off in front of 4,500 spectators in the Falls. When all was said and done, Boston and Toronto racked-up 100-minutes in penalties. Once again, Bobby Nevin was in the thick of things. Skating behind the Bruins goal, Nevin was thumped by defenceman Ted Green. This was the signal for everyone to pair-off and exchange hostilities.

After sixty-minutes of play, Boston skated off the ice with a 4 to 2 win over the Maple Leafs. Scoring for Toronto were Bill Dineen and Eddie Shack.

A new hockey year wouldn't be the same without some scuttlebutt coming out of camp. This was provided by Leaf executive Stafford Smythe. For a while, the Leafs expressed some interest in acquiring New York Ranger captain Andy Bathgate. Smythe, blurted-out the names of personnel they would be willing to send the other way. Included on Smythe's list were Ron Stewart, George Armstrong, Billy Harris and possibly Dick Duff. If Bathgate was out of their reach, Boston's Don McKenney would be considered a decent alternative.

Although neither player became Leaf property in the upcoming season, both Bathgate and McKenney would be packaged in a deal to Toronto on February 22, 1964. McKenney was traded to the Rangers from Boston on February 4, 1963. The huge deal between Toronto and New York came on the afternoon prior to their Saturday evening tilt at Maple Leaf Gardens. It certainly was a blockbuster. To secure the two forwards, Imlach sent a boatload of players to the Rangers - Dick Duff, Bob Nevin, Arnie Brown, Bill Collins and Rod Seiling.

With September coming to a close, the Leafs travelled to western Canada to continue their exhibition schedule. Punch Imlach took care of some business shortly before the team headed out to Edmonton and it involved his goaltending situation. Imlach informed Don Simmons he was being assigned to the Rochester Americans (AHL). As expected, Johnny Bower prevailed in his quest to remain the Leafs number one puck-stopper.

When camp came to an end, most experts pointed to centre Dave Keon as the most consistent player in the exhibition games. Entering his sophomore year, Keon was named winner of the Calder trophy as the NHL's top rookie for 1960-61 the previous spring.

Imlach, known for his gimmicks, like gazing into a crystal ball to tell the future, set high standards for himself and the 1961-62 Leafs. His slogan for the new campaign left little doubt as to his expectations -STANLEY CUP TOO IN 62 - anything else but the ultimate prize would do. To help him achieve this feat, Imlach signed two camp holdouts - Bob Pulford and Billy Harris - with mere hours remaining until the first puck drop to start their 70 game schedule.

Toronto opened their regular season against Detroit in the Olympia on October 12, 1961. A crowd of 10,234 watched as the Leafs and Red Wings played in 85-degree heat. The first Leaf to score was Red Kelly. On the play, Kelly took a pass from Frank Mahovlich and fired a 40-foot shot at the Detroit net. His drive beat goalie Terry Sawchuk. Also hitting the twine for Toronto were Eddie Shack, Bob Pulford and Dick Duff (into an empty net at 19:51).

With a 4 to 2 road win safely tucked into their hockey bags, Toronto headed home to face the Boston Bruins at the Gardens on October 14, 1961.

Keeping with tradition, the 48th Highlanders' marched and played in front of 13,672 fans in a pre-game ceremony. George Armstrong and Boston's Don McKenney were summoned to centre ice to take part in the puck drop conducted by former Prime Minister Louis St. Laurent. Leaf centre, Red Kelly, was presented with the J.P. Bickell Memorial trophy for his outstanding work in 1960-61, his initial season with Toronto.

Hoping for a quick start, Toronto fell behind when Doug Mohns scored in the opening period. The Leafs got on the scoreboard when Allan Stanley, with helpers going to Keon and Duff, scored in the second period. This set the stage for a thrilling final twenty-minutes of hockey.

Big Leaf left winger, Frank Mahovlich emerged as the scoring threat in the final frame. He assisted on the Leafs second goal when Kelly tipped in his shot. Then, he finished off the scoring for Toronto by beating Boston goalie Don Head. The Leafs sent their faithful home happy with a 3 to 2 triumph over the visitors from Beantown.

Mahovlich would continue with the hot-hand throughout the first month of the season. He led the club in scoring with three goals and five assists. Toronto held down third spot in the standings with nine points (4 wins-2 losses-1 tie).

NHL president Clarence Campbell made a trip to Toronto on November 11, 1961 and he didn't come empty handed. Although Christmas was more than a month away, Campbell came bearing gifts for three members of the Leafs. His luggage included three pieces of NHL silverware. As the Leafs and Red Wings waited to square-off, the NHL head honcho presented the Vezina trophy to Johnny Bower, the Lady Byng trophy to Red Kelly and the Calder trophy to Dave Keon. The festive mood lasted right through the entire contest as the Leafs breezed to a 5 to 1 blasting of Detroit.

News concerning the Maple Leafs wasn't limited to action on the ice. On November 13, 1961 came an announcement, via Conn Smythe, that his son, Stafford, resigned from his position as chairman of the Hockey Committee. The committee, known as the silver-seven, was in-charge of running the hockey team. Speculation immediately surfaced relating to Stafford's future role in Maple Leaf Gardens Limited. The best bet had the elder Smythe stepping down as president and handing the office keys over to his off-spring.

The guessing game concluded on November 23, 1961 in dramatic fashion. The appointment of Stafford Smythe as MLG president followed a business transaction involving Conn, Stafford, and the younger Smythe's partners - Harold Ballard and John Bassett. The trio gained controlling interest by purchasing 50,000 shares of stock (at $40.00 per) for $2,000,000 from Conn Smythe. It wasn't, however, the final chapter in Conn Smythe's long relationship with professional hockey. He replaced W.A.H. (Bill) MacBrien as chairman of the board.

On February 8, 1962 Conn Smythe relinquished his position as the NHL governor for the Toronto Maple Leafs. He held the post from February 14, 1927 when he became part-owner of the former St. Pats. His responsibilities at the league level were passed onto Stafford. At the 1962 summer meetings held in Montreal, Conn Smythe was given the distinction of being elected as a "life governor of the National Hockey League." At a dinner hosted by Hartland Molson, Smythe was presented with a sterling silver tray.

By mid-December, the Leafs were on a roll when skating on Maple Leaf Gardens ice. Going into a game against the New York Rangers on December 16, 1961 they had strung together an unbeaten streak of ten wins and two ties. Toronto would extend the streak to 13 with a 6 to 1 hammering of the Rangers.

Not only did the Gardens ownership and management undergo changes with Smythe, Ballard and Bassett now in control, but the building was in-line for a transformation. In December, work crews began installing 36 new box seats.

Young Canada Night took place on December 23, 1961 with the Leafs hosting Boston. A Christmas tradition established in the 1930s, the event made special considerations for youngsters to attend. For those hoping to witness the Leafs extending their unbeaten home streak, one obstacle stood in the way. The Boston Bruins exploded for seven goals and defeated Toronto 7 to 4.

Unlike today's NHL, there was no mandatory break in the schedule during the Original Six era to allow players to spend Christmas with family. On December 25, 1961 the Leafs battled the Black Hawks to a 3 to 3 draw in Chicago Stadium.

Chicago and Toronto resumed action on December 27, 1961 in Maple Leaf Gardens. Fans who liked the defensive style of hockey got an extra Christmas gift in this post Boxing Day game. The Leafs and Hawks once again skated to a tie, but this one was unique. Neither team managed to score, with Bower and Glenn Hall each stopping thirty shots. For Toronto, it was their first scoreless match since December 4, 1957 versus the Habs. The Black Hawks participated in the last league-wide zero to zero outcome on December 28, 1957. Their dance partner were the Boston Bruins.

Always looking to improve his club, Imlach made a waiver claim on December 29, 1961. After being made available by Detroit the previous day, Imlach plucked Eddie Litzenberger off the waiver wire for $20,000. The Leafs were in a position to acquire the big forward after New York, Boston and Chicago passed on the opportunity.

When it was time to take down the 1961 calendar, Imlach and the Maple Leafs had posted an impressive record. The sat in second-place, trailing league leading Montreal by four points. In 34 dates, Toronto earned 43 points with 19 wins, 10 losses and 5 ties.

Putting up their new calendar for 1962, the Leafs circled January 3rd as the day they would return to action. First up was a visit by their longtime rival Montreal. After Dick Duff  opened the scoring, Dave Keon went to work and dazzled the home crowd. In addition to potting two goals, the St. Michael's graduate just missed a third tally - in spectacular fashion. Taking a penalty shot against Jacques Plante, number 14 of the Leafs beat the masked goalie, but his shot hit the post. Thanks to Keon's offensive output, the Leafs began 1962 with a 3 to 1 victory.

Following a pattern established earlier in the season, Toronto continued their dominance at home. As they were about to face the Boston Bruins in Toronto's hockey palace on January 20, 1962, the Blue and White had amassed 17 wins in 21 games. Going up against the Bruins, Toronto failed to collect a point as Boston handed them a 5 to 4 loss. On the road, their results, 8-10-3, were less fruitful.

There would be no change in the standings for Toronto following their final regular season game in Boston Garden. The Bruins edged Toronto 5 to 4. In 70 games Imlach's crew won 37, lost 22 and tied 11. Their 85 points was good enough for second-place behind Toe Blake's Canadiens.

On the individual front. Frank Mahovlich led the team in scoring and points. Playing in all 70 contests, he finished with 71 points (33 goals & 38 assists). Ten points behind the Big "M" was Davey Keon.

In the semi-finals, Toronto met the fourth-place New York Rangers. With games one and two slotted in Toronto, the Leafs defeated New York in both by scores of 4 to 2 and 2 to 1.

When play shifted to Madison Square Garden for games three and four, it was the Rangers turn to enjoy some home cooking. New York evened the series at two games apiece with 5 to 4 and 4 to 2 victories.

The pivotal fifth game occurred on April 5, 1962 on Toronto ice. After sixty-minutes, Toronto and New York were tied a two goals each. The matter wasn't decided until the 4:23 mark of the second period of extra time with the winning goal coming off Red Kelly's stick.

Under normal circumstances, the two teams would travel to New York for game six. However, instead of hockey being the marquee attraction at MSG, it was the Big-Top invading the Big Apple. Similar to previous occasions, the circus was booked into the Garden resulting in the Rangers being stripped of vital home dates.

With home ice being a major factor through games one and five, the advantage tilted in Toronto's favour as the venue for game six was Maple Leaf Gardens. Leaf supporters were hoping their team's success at 60 Carlton Street through the regular season and early in the playoffs would continue.

In a position to boot their opponent out of the post-season competition, Toronto didn't let their advantage slip away. Knowing they were only one win away from a trip to the final, the Leafs came out with all guns blasting. When the bloodbath was over, Toronto had delivered a 7 to 1 pounding on their opening round opponent.
Next up for Punch Imlach and his collection of warriors was a winner-takes-all showdown with the defending Stanley Cup champion Chicago Black Hawks. The Leafs had only one goal in mind - wrestle the big silver cup away from the current holders of Lord Stanley's gift to hockey.

The final got underway on April 10, 1962 with Bobby Hull and Chicago's other offensive weapons  arriving in town. Due to gaining second-place, the Leafs held home ice advantage heading into the home stretch of the 1962 playoffs.

Like their previous series against New York, the Leafs excelled on home ice, taking games one (4 to 1) and two (3 to 2).

In Chicago for games three and four, the Leafs fell to the Black Hawks in both encounters. On April 15th Chicago blanked Toronto 3 to 0 with Glenn Hall blocking all 19 shots Toronto directed at his net. Two nights later, the two teams became embroiled in a nasty contest which included slashing majors and game misconducts to Mahovlich and Stan Mikita. Perhaps, the busiest men on the ice were referee Frank Udvardi and linesmen Neil Armstrong and Matt Pavelich. Although the scoring summary was filled with penalty information, the Hawks were only concerned with one statistic - the final score - a 4 to 1 drubbing over their challengers for hockey supremacy.

Heading back home, the Leafs were confident their success on home turf would continue in game five. Having scored only one goal away from the friendly confines of Maple Leaf Gardens, it was vital the Leafs get their firepower in gear. And they wasted no time in rattling the Chicago defence. Seventeen seconds after the opening face-off, Bob Pulford put Toronto on the board with assists going to Nevin and Olmstead. At 17:43 of the first period Pulford registered his second goal. He would complete his hat trick in the third while Toronto was on a power play.

Again, the Leafs were able to respond in a key fifth game with the teams splitting the previous four. Their doubling of the Hawks, 8 to 4, gave Toronto a three games to two advantage as the clubs jetted back to the Windy City for game six.

Only needing one more win to capture their first Cup since 1951, the Leafs had two kicks-at-the-cans to accomplish their goal. The pressure clearly was on Chicago - win or wait until next year.

The Leafs, with Don Simmons in goal having replaced Johnny Bower in game four, took to the ice for game six on April 22, 1962.

Bobby Hull's goal at 8:56 in the third gave Chicago a one goal lead. Hull got control of the puck after Dick Duff mistakenly directed it in front of his own goal. At 10:27, Bob Nevin knotted the score at 1 to 1. As expected, the stakes were high as the clock ticked down. The next goal would be enormous  and an overtime atmosphere engulfed Chicago Stadium.

At 14:14, as though scripted for a Hollywood production, the Leafs produced the go-ahead-tally. In the starring role was the character that let himself and his teammates down on the Chicago goal by Hull. Taking centre stage, positioned underneath the spotlight was one of the team's smallest players, who now stood ten-feet tall in his skates, Dick Duff.

"I picked up Army's (George Armstrong) pass behind me whirled and shot. But I didn't know it went in. Glenn Hall had gone down to block and I couldn't see, but wow what a thrill when that light went on," commented Duff when describing his Cup winning goal.

"STANLEY CUP TOO IN 62" was no longer just a slogan. On April 22, 1962 it became a reality.

Friday, February 24, 2012

Tick, tock

The lead-up and anticipation to the trade deadline makes one recall Christmas when they were young. Nothing but questions dominated the time prior to the big event. Would Santa bring new skates? A hockey sweater (insert the name of your favourite team here!)? Gloves? Stick? Hockey book?

It was endless.

Trade talk and speculation is no different. It is part of being a fan. It's the time when armchair quarterbacks can scrutinize what moves are necessary for their GM to make prior to the clock striking three.Will they trade for a scoring winger? Will they give-up the hot-shot prospect? How about a new starting goalie?

Again, it is endless.

Below are three trades made in the Original Six era which are significant. They not only had an impact on the ice, but off the ice as well.

Ted Kennedy traded to Toronto for Frank Eddolls on September 10, 1943. The beginning of the end.

As a team, Conn Smythe and Frank Selke worked together in the early years of the Toronto Maple Leafs. Both made a huge contribution to the building of Maple Leaf Gardens in 1931.

During World War Two, Smythe ventured over to Europe to assist in the conflict with Germany. While he was away, Selke and coach Hap Day were put in charge of the store. On September 10, 1943 they completed the trade to obtain a young Ted Kennedy. Upon getting word of the transaction, Smythe exploded. It wasn't so much the players involved, but the fact he was left out of the loop.

"My anger was entirely at not being consulted," wrote Smythe in his memoir, "If You Can't Beat 'Em in the Alley."

The tension between Smythe and Selke escalated when the Leaf boss returned from military service. A power struggle developed concerning if Smythe or Selke should be named president of Maple Leaf Gardens Ltd.. On one side was Ed Bickle and Bill MacBrien supporting Selke. On the flip side, Smythe had the backing of Jack Bickell and Percy Gardiner. As the history books show, Conn Smythe prevailed.

Frank Selke resigned from his position with Maple Leaf Gardens in May 1946. The cause for this divorce from Selke's point-of-view? Smythe sent him a memo advising if Selke left the building at anytime, he should first check with Smythe.

On July 10, 1946, Selke became the managing director of the Montreal Canadiens, following the departure of Tommy Gorman. He went on to have major success with the Habs winning a number of Stanley Cups.

Ed Litzenberger traded to Chicago from Montreal for cash on December 10, 1954. Saving the Chicago Black Hawks.

On December 2, 1953 a newspaper headline brought into focus the trouble brewing in Chicago. It read, "Writz Threat To Withdraw Hawks Startle NHL Brass."

The text of the report was even more disturbing. "I'd like to pull the Black Hawks out of Chicago, " said Arthur Writz. "The team has lost $300,00 already and the future isn't bright at all because we can't get players regardless of how much money we are willing to spend," commented Writz on the predicament his club was facing.

Over the next year the National Hockey League put their collective resources together to help the Black Hawks. Their efforts became known as the "Save Chicago" program.

As part of their campaign, the Montreal Canadiens traded prospect Ed Litzenberger to Chicago for cash on December 10, 1954. Of all the players shifted to Chicago, Litzenberger turned out to be the most important. This group included the likes of Dave Creighton, Harry Watson, Johnny McCormack and Bill Gadsby.

Litzenbereger proved to be a hit right off the bat with Chicago. On April 26, 1955 he was named winner of the Calder trophy (top rookie). He was the first Black Hawk to be recognized in this manner since Cully Dahlstom won the Calder in 1937.

In 1961, as captain of the Chicago Black Hawks, he lead his teammates to a Stanley Cup victory. The Hawks and Litzenberger came a long way since they were joined at the hip following the "Save Chicago" plan being put into action.

Ted Lindsay traded from Detroit to Chicago with Glenn Hall in exchange for Johnny Wilson, Forbes Kennedy, Hank Bassen and Bill Preston on July 23, 1957. Fighting for a cause and the future, but paying a high price.

On February 12, 1957 NHL players formed the first National Hockey League Players' Association. Lead by president Ted Lindsay, the group fought to gain rights for their rank and file. Serving as vice president was Doug Harvey; Fern Flaman and Gus Mortson as second and third vice presidents; Bill Gadsby as treasurer.

Being ignored by the owners, Lindsay and company launched a $3,000,000 suit against the National Hockey League.

As a result of their actions, the executive of the NHLPA were inflicted with a full-out assault from their employers. Lindsay, being considered the ring leader, was the main target.

Detroit's general manager, Jack Adams, immediately went to work on Lindsay. His goal was to conquer and divide. By attacking Lindsay, Adams hoped his teammates would see him in a different light. Reference was made to Lindsay's life away from hockey. The game which allowed him to own a nice home and start a business.

Adams set-up a meeting with the Detroit hockey press for a private conversation concerning Lindsay. He told the media Lindsay was "a bad apple", "a cancer", "the ruination of the team."

The final blow in Adams fight with Lindsay was delivered on July 23, 1957. A trade to the lowly Chicago Black Hawks sent a message to Lindsay and others considered to be trouble-makers.

There was little question that Lindsay and Hall were the best assests exchanged. The value coming from Chicago was no match. Looking back, one has to wonder if that wasn't the intention of Jack Adams. The real value was sending the message to Lindsay and every player in the league. And the message was clear - Adams controlled the Detroit dressing room, not Ted Lindsay. Also, if Lindsay could be shipped-out for his upsetting the owners, what would happen to a player with lesser skills who dared to join the NHLPA.

How else do you account for trading a player who was second in league scoring with 30 goals and 55 assists (85 points). Also, a player named to the First All-Star Team at left wing.

Another driving force to kick the players to the curb was Conn Smythe in Toronto. The player rep for the Maple Leafs was defenceman and team captain Jimmy Thomson.

Smythe unloaded on Thomson from every direction.

On the Leafs final road trip of the season, Smythe instructed Hap Day to keep Thomson at home away from the team. Smythe referred to his captain as being a "traitor" and "communist". Following the 1956-57 season, Thomson was placed on waivers, but no other team put in a claim. Another joint message being delivered from high above.

In August 1957, Smythe followed the same path established by Jack Adams in Detroit - he traded Jimmy Thomson - sending him to, you guessed it, the Chicago Black Hawks.

Three trades depicting the era of Original Six hockey. The good, the bad, and the ugly all wrapped-up in deals where power struggles, personality conflicts and survival were just as important as goals and assists.

Wednesday, February 22, 2012

A Bickell of an Award

True to form, Maple Leaf Phil Kessel is once again having an outstanding season. One can only imagine where Toronto would be in the standings without his offensive production.

Perhaps, the board of directors at MLSE should give consideration to getting the J.P. Bickell Memorial trophy out of storage and giving it a good polishing. There is no one more deserving than Kessel to receive the honour of being presented with the award.

John Paris Bickell's association with big league hockey in Toronto dates back to the 1920s. In the decade of the roaring twenties, he was part-owner of the NHL St. Pats prior to their becoming the Toronto Maple Leafs in 1927. Bickell, who kept his financial interest in the Leafs, became the first president of Maple Leaf Gardens in 1931.

Bickell earned his wealth away from the sporting world. His first success resulted from the development of a silver mine in northern Ontario. His next venture was in McIntyre Mines in Porcupine Ontario. He held the position of chairman with McIntyre.

During World War Two, Bickell served on the British Airplane Supply board. This group was responsible for ensuring Britain was well stocked with planes to fight the enemy. He was part of this program for two-years.

J.P. Bickell died on August 22, 1951 in New York City. Following a minor stroke, Bickell travelled to the Big Apple, but suffered health problems when reaching his destination.

To honour Bickell, who was elevated to the rank of chairman with the Gardens, the Leafs created the J.P. Bickell Memorial trophy - "Awarded at the discretion of the board of directors to a Leaf for a tremendous feat, one season of spectacular play, or remarkable service over a number of years."

The trophy was in the planning stage for over a year. It was designed by the Jensen firm located in in Copenhagen. Consisting of a 14-karat gold cup affixed to a silver base, it was first presented in 1953. The initial winner selected by the board was Leaf captain Ted Kennedy.

On the evening of October 10, 1953 (opening night), a pre-game ceremony was held to honour Kennedy with the Bickell trophy. In attendance and representing the family was Bickell's sister, J.B. Paulen. The puck drop was handled by Balmer Neilly (a business associate of Bickell's).

Prior to the presentation, Maple Leaf Gardens was filled with music from the 48th Highlander pipe and brass bands. This was a first-night tradition dating back to November 12, 1931 when the Gardens front door first swung open for hockey action.

At 8:25, Kennedy was summoned to centre ice where the $10,000 Bickell trophy was on display. As a keepsake, Kennedy received a miniature 14-karat gold replica valued at $500.

To cap-off the festive mood, Toronto went on to defeat the Chicago Black Hawks 6 to 2. Although he didn't score, Kennedy earned an assist on Sid Smith's goal at the nine-minute mark of period two. The Smith tally provided Toronto with a 4 to 1 advantage over Chicago.

Monday, February 20, 2012

Making the Grade

In the era of Original Six hockey, there was no shortage of players just bursting  for the opportunity to crack an NHL line-up. At the time of expansion in 1967, many in hockey shared the opinion teams in the American Hockey League and Western Hockey League were more than stocked with talent to make the NHL.

Since there were only six big league clubs and limited jobs in the National Hockey League, many players never made it to the big dance. The advantage clearly went to the NHL owners, who often held the threat of demotion over the heads of those on their roster. If a player was unwilling to agree to contract terms as established by his owner, he knew his employer had another option concerning his services. Instead of being handed a revised proposal, the player would have a bus ticket shoved in his chest and be instructed to report to the farm. Of course, there would be no increase in salary. If the player didn't agree, he wouldn't play hockey.

The roster for the Buffalo Bisons, heading into the 1953-54 season, highlights just how good the talent pool was in the American Hockey League.

The first impression when viewing the above - is it not an NHL line-up? So many names either played for New York, Boston, Chicago, Detroit, Montreal or Toronto. Some were in the later stages of their careers, but still had the passion and skills to lace-up their boots. Many, were lingering in the AHL, waiting for the phone to ring or the tap on the shoulder from their general manager.

Friday, February 17, 2012

Update: A Mysterious Disappearance

Recently, I wrote a piece concerning the cornerstone located at Maple Leaf Gardens - Full Story.

The alarms went off when the cornerstone, in place for 80-years, suddenly disappeared from view. It was a jolt to the system to walk by the Gardens and not observe the stone with "1931 AD" carved into the surface. The cornerstone ceremony took place on September 31, 1931.

While attending a press conference at Ryerson University (for the Maple Leaf Gardens Time Capsule), I had the opportunity to explore what happened concerning the vanishing cornerstone. Fortunately, I'm pleased to report a happy outcome.

In anticipation of the interior transformation and new use by Loblaw and Ryerson, the cornerstone was put out of commission. Jane Marshall, Executive Vice President of Properties for Loblaw Companies Ltd., explained the next step. "We will keep the old one and then below it we are going to indicate the year it was restored. The old one goes back and then a little piece goes below it."

A ceremony marking the new and old cornerstone will take place later this year.

With all the changes going on, I wondered what Conn Smythe, the driving force behind the building project in 1931, would think. This question was put to his son, Dr. Hugh Smythe.

"I think he would be really pleased. Broken-hearted at what happened when they (Leafs) moved away from the Gardens and delighted that it came back as a real people place. He was a university graduate, so the tie-in with Ryerson makes perfect sense in terms of proper use of, let's face it, a landmark building," stated a beaming Dr. Smythe.

In tune with the changes, the two cornerstones will incorporate the old and new. From the Conn Smythe era to present day - then and now.

Wednesday, February 15, 2012

Trent Frayne 1918-2012

The sports writing world lost a legend on February 11, 2012 with the passing of Trent Frayne.

Mostly noted for his work in the newspaper and magazine trade, Frayne also put his name to 13 books. Upon hearing of his passing, I couldn't resist going to my book shelves and dusting off one of his finest - The Mad Men of Hockey.

Written in 1974, the back cover provides the best description of the content contained within the 191 pages - "Put it this way: The Mad Men of Hockey is a gold mine of the game's lore and lunacy." Given the additional space, which a newspaper column doesn't provide, Frayne was able to do what he did best - tell a story.

Here is a short example.

Frayne writes about this exchange between New York Americans coach Red Dutton and one of his defencemen, Joe Jerwa. After being beaten by two Ranger players in the same manner (the forwards slid the puck between his skates), Dutton confronted Jerwa.

"...Dammit, Joe," he yelled, "you did that on purpose. That'll cost you two hundred and fifty."

"Why don't you double it?" hollered Jerwa.

"It is doubled," cried Dutton.

"You can't do it," said Jerwa, beginning to grin.

"Why the hell can't I?"

"Because," laughed Jerwa, "there ain't that much comin' in my pay."

Reading this passage made me feel as though I was eavesdropping on the conversation between Dutton and Jerwa! Frayne, weaving the story to put the reader in a position of being a fly on the wall with ears glued to the give and take.

Trent Frayne first got his feet wet in journalism with the Winnipeg Tribune in the 1940s. He went on to punch the keys for the Globe and Mail, Toronto Telegram. Toronto Star and Toronto Sun. On the magazine side, his work appeared in various publications most notably in MacLean's and the Saturday Evening Post.

Born in Brandon Manitoba on September 13, 1918, Trent Frayne died in Toronto at the age of 93.

Tuesday, February 14, 2012

Looking Back: February 14, 1927

It was a matter of all the pieces falling into place. The end result would be an historic day for hockey and the City of Toronto.

On February 14, 1927, Conn Smythe and his business partners purchased the Toronto St. Pats of the National Hockey League. Prior to reaching this point, several events took place leading Smythe back to Toronto.

In the fall of 1926 Smythe was employed by the NHL's newest entry, the New York Rangers. While conducting his first NHL training camp at Ravina Gardens in Toronto, Colonel Hammond an executive with the Rangers, came calling. The Colonel didn't deliver good news to Smythe. He was informed the Rangers were going in another direction and his services would no longer be required. The Rangers had second thoughts about Smythe's degree of experience in professional hockey. His replacement was Lester Patrick.

After leaving the Rangers organization, Smythe approached the St. Pats in Toronto concerning any job openings. With the NHL season only a month away, Toronto was still without a leader to run their club. Once again, Smythe was rebuffed due to his lack of experience in the pro game.

Over the next while, pieces of the puzzle would fall into place. First, Smythe settled his contract with New York and several gambling ventures paid-off nicely for Smythe.

Shortly after the 1926-27 campaign got underway, Smythe was approached by Jack Bickell. The hockey world was taking notice of Smythe's past work with the Rangers who got off to a good start. In Toronto, Bickell and company changed their tune and were looking to the Toronto native to change the fortunes of their big league club.

Smythe, sensing he could push for more in the deal, changed his position when negotiating with the St. Pats.

"I said I'd only run the team if I could buy it, or part of it," wrote Smythe in his memoirs - If You Can't Beat 'EM in the Alley.

Jack Bickell, a major investor in the St. Pats, agreed to keep his $40,000 with the club. It was up to Smythe to raise the remaining $160,000 to pay-off the other investors.

"I agreed. Late in January I put down $10,000 for an option to purchase. On February 14, 1927, a Monday night, the new investors I'd rounded up met with the owners, and we paid another $75,000 and undertook to pay the remaining $75,000 in thirty days," wrote Smythe.

With things falling into place, there was one important final piece to drop. It came in the form of a maple leaf. In addition to becoming a part-owner and representing his team on the NHL board of governors, Smythe fitted the final piece into the puzzle. He changed the team colours and name of the franchise.

Exactly 85-years-ago this evening, the Toronto Maple Leafs were created. Mention the words - blue and white - in 2012 and every true hockey fan will know the reference.

Friday, February 10, 2012

A Cheer for Andy

It is always a great occasion when an Original Six player is recognized  for his contributions to the game.

On February 7, 2012, came word that Andy Bathgate is going to be inducted into the Ontario Sports Hall of Fame. The ceremony will take place in September at Woodbine Racetrack in Toronto.

Andy Bathgate scored his first National Hockey League goal in a contest against the Chicago Black Hawks at Madison Square Garden on November 18, 1953. A crowd of 6,176 Ranger fans watched as the new addition to New York's line-up fired his first of 349 career goals in the NHL.

The Rangers summoned the 21-year-old rookie a week earlier from the Vancouver Canucks of the Western Hockey League. His first stint with the big league club came in 1952-53, when Bathgate skated in 18 games.

 Bathgate's goal came late in the opening period at 17:21 when he beat Chicago goalie Al Rollins. Gaining assists on the goal were Ron Murphy and Camille Henry.

Going into the contest, New York coach Frank Boucher had a harsh assessment of his defensive core. It was his opinion they must "quit loafing or else." The "or else" being incentive for several Ranger defenders to pick-up their game.

Following Bathgate's goal, the Hawks tied the game at one goal apiece in the middle frame. Scoring for the visitors was Murray Costello. His tally came at 8:17 against Johnny Bower in the New York net.

Then, came the opportunity for New York's defencemen to chip in on offence. The Rangers gained a 2-1 advantage when Harry Howell scored an unassisted marker at 14:55.

With the drop of the puck to start period three, New York was on the hunt to increase their 2-1 lead. At 8:28, the Rangers did just that when Paul Ronty gave his team a two goal cushion. Contributing an assist was forward Wally Hergesheimer. The other helper went to defenceman Hy Buller.

For the remaining minutes of play, Johnny Bower and his defencemen held Chicago scoreless. Not only did they attend to their defensive responsibilities, but two Ranger rearguards (Howell & Buller) made their way onto the scoring summary.

In addition to gaining two points in the standings with the 3-1 victory, the highlight for the New York faithful was Bathgate's first regular season goal in a Rangers uniform.

When Bathgate was called-up in 1953-54 he found himself playing on a line with Paul Ronty and Wally Hergesheimer. He played left-wing and a New York media report referred to him as being "smart and he has good size."

Over most of his 1,069 NHL games, Bathgate patrolled the right-wing position for New York, Toronto, Detroit and Pittsburgh. He was awarded the Hart Trophy in 1959 as the NHL's most valuable player. He captured a Stanley Cup with the Toronto Maple Leafs in 1964. His winning-goal in game seven of the final came against Red Wing goalie Terry Sawchuk. Bathgate became an honoured member of the Hockey Hall of Fame in 1978.

Wednesday, February 8, 2012

Brooklyn: Then & Now

Red Dutton
Not since 1941-42 has a National Hockey League team been associated with Brooklyn, New York. Under manager and part-owner Red Dutton, the New York Americans played their regular season home games in Manhattan at Madison Square Garden. They entered the NHL in 1925, one full campaign prior to the New York Rangers.

Seeking a new identity for his franchise in '41-42, Dutton arranged for the Americans to practice at Brooklyn's Ice Palace. Also, he changed their look by adding "BROOKLYN" across the front of their sweaters. Why Brooklyn? "I've always regarded Brooklyn as one of the finest sports centers in the world. The way the fans support baseball and football Dodgers convinced me they would be just as rabid for hockey," explained Dutton.

It was his intention for the Americans to play full-time in a new arena to be built in Kings County. In the meantime, Dutton's squad would continue to perform at the Garden in the Big Apple, but insisted his players live in Brooklyn.

Dutton's dream of a move to Brooklyn crashed and burned in late September of 1942. On September 16th, Dutton was informed that no dates were available for the Brooklyn Americans to skate on MSG ice for the upcoming season of 1942-43. In a power play by Lester Patrick and the New York Rangers, they forced Brooklyn out of the league, thus becoming the only face on the New York hockey market. Dutton and the Americans simply ran out of time to make alternative plans.

"We're out of the league because Madison Square Garden forced us out, and for no other reason. We're out because Madison Square Garden didn't have any dates available for us this coming season. And you can't keep an NHL franchise with no ice to play on," stated Dutton after attending league meetings in Toronto on September 24th and 25th.

The Brooklyn Americans played their final home game in MSG on March 15, 1942. The opposition was provided by the Toronto Maple Leafs. A crowd of 8,976 took in the contest. The starting goalies were Turk Broda for Toronto and Chuck Rayner for Brooklyn.

Following forty-minutes of play, Brooklyn built-up a 4-1 advantage over the Leafs. The Amerks got two goals from Murph Chamberlain, with Norm Larson and Wilf Field chipping in a goal each. Toronto's Dave Schriner beat Rayner in the first period.

Toronto stormed back in the early stages of the final period, narrowing the gap to 4-3. Notching goals for the visitors were Bob Goldham and Billy Taylor. Toronto's comeback was wiped-out when Chamberlain completed his hat trick and Mel Hill scored late in the game. The Brooklyn Americans departed Madison Square Garden with a 6-3 victory.

Now, 70-years later, residents of Brooklyn will finally have the opportunity to experience NHL hockey in their own backyard. On October 2, 2012, the New York Islanders and New Jersey Devils will play an exhibition game at the new Barclays Centre in Brooklyn. The facility will be the new home of the NBA New Jersey Nets.

There is talk the Islanders could be wetting-their-feet concerning Brooklyn. Owner Charles Wang has been rebuffed in his efforts to construct a new arena on Long Island. Their current lease expires in 2015.

Hockey in Brooklyn - Then & Now.

Monday, February 6, 2012

A Look Back: February 6, 1947

It is the crowning moment for hockey players who have made their way through the system. The endless hours of crafting their skills from youth hockey to minor league play, finally paying-off with a single ring of the telephone. The call all players lingering in the American Hockey League and other pro leagues wait for.

Exactly 65-years-ago this evening on February 6, 1947, both Bill Barilko and Sid Smith made their debut in Leaf uniforms against the Montreal Canadiens at the Forum.

The Globe and Mail in their game report the next day, gave a brief account of the two newcomers in the Leaf line-up.

"The Toronto team introduced two rookies to NHL competition. Sid Smith a Toronto boy up from the Pittsburgh Hornets, played at left wing with Ted Kennedy and Howie Meeker. Bill Barilko. up from the Hollywood Wolves, played on defence and was a bright spot in the Toronto cause with his ability to hit the opposition."

The results for the Leafs and their two new additions were much better in their next contest on February 8th. Barilko and Smith skated onto the ice surface at Maple Leaf Gardens for their first regular season home game. The opposition being provided by the Boston Bruins.

When the final bell was sounded, the Maple Leafs and their fans celebrated a 5-2 victory over Boston. This time around, both Barilko and Smith had an impact on the outcome. Sid Smith's first NHL goal in the final frame provided Toronto with a 4-2 advantage. Then, with less than 4-minutes remaining in the game, Bill Barilko joined Smith in the scoring summary by notching his first National Hockey League goal. In each case, goalie Frank Brimsek was defending the Boston goal, and teammate Howie Meeker earned the lone assist.

Sid Smith played his entire NHL career in the colours of the Toronto Maple Leafs. Bill Barilko was a Maple Leaf until his sudden death in the summer of 1951.

Friday, February 3, 2012

Scratching the Surface

Last week, after attending a press conference pertaining to the Maple Leaf Gardens time capsule, I immediately headed uptown from Ryerson University to the Toronto Reference Library. It was my intention to unravel the cloak of mystery surrounding the identity of M.B. Campbell. This name was found embedded on the box lid.

Three hours after arriving at the library, the full name and occupation of Campbell was established. The city directories for 1930 and 1931 identified the individual residing at 124 Lindsay Ave (the address inscribed on the lid) as being Milliard B. Campbell. Subsequent research revealed the proper spelling of his first name - Millard.

The directories also supplied information on Campbell's occupation. They record his working for Ewart Arner and Byam Ltd. (consulting engineers). He held the position of draftsman (1930 & 1931). The 1932 directory upgrades Campbell's job description to architect. The firm was located on 36 Toronto Street in the Excelsior Life Building.

My quest to expand Campbell's profile continued this week. Pouring over material at, I came across a birth record for Millard Bruels Campbell.

Millard Campbell was born February 2, 1909 in York County. His father being Angus Strathearn Campbell and his mother being Florence Rosetta Bruels.

The key to linking information from the city directory and was the address - 124 Lindsay Ave. Exploring the city directory turned up one Angus S. Campbell. As luck would have it, his address was 124 Lindsay Ave. He was employed with Eaton's as an electrician, the same type of work listed on the birth record.

As I didn't have a source to confirm these facts, I was hesitant to proceed. I would have to be happy with being the first to identify the individual whose name appeared on the lid along with his occupation. Although my follow-up information was correct, I couldn't be one-hundred percent sure.

On Wednesday, a local paper published a piece which confirmed the research I developed.

Of interest, they provided theories on Campbell's relationship to Maple Leaf Gardens. Young Campbell, after graduating from Central Tech in Toronto, worked in the Gardens. This job was apparently obtained as a result of a friendship between the Campbell and Smythe families.

City directories offer no information confirming his employment at Maple Leaf Gardens. From 1930 - the year previous to Toronto's new ice palace being constructed on Carlton Street - to 1932 his employer is Ewart Arner & Byam. This isn't to say he couldn't have held a second job at the Gardens.

Campbell's interest in working with metal and making boxes came from his grandfather.

With 80-years having passed since the time capsule was planted, we may never be able to answer all the questions about Campbell and his involvement with Maple Leaf Gardens. What was his job and duties while working for Conn Smythe? The time-line of his employment? Who requested him to build the copper box?

Only the surface has been scratched. Unfortunately, we may not have the tools to dig any further.

The mystery continues.

Wednesday, February 1, 2012

Update: The Winter Classic Alumni Game

Last week, I wrote about the role of NHL Alumni taking part in activities during the New Year's holiday extravaganza. In particular, with emphasis being paid to the lack of financial funding coming their way.

Addressing concerns of many in the game, past and present, was NHL Alumni president Mark Napier. Recently Napier was contacted by the NHL to discuss the subject of revenue raised as a result of the Winter Classic Alumni Game. The following quotes were extracted from his interview with Dave Feschuk of the Toronto Star.

On sitting down and chatting with the NHL...

"Hopefully we can have some good meetings and some of the revenues from (future Winter Classic alumni) games can go to some of our members. Obviously there's some significant revenues there. One thing I will say in defence of the league is they might have guessed (the alumni game) would do well, but they didn't know for sure...We want to look forward and talk to the league about it, about how we can make it bigger and better and get some money in our guys' jeans that really need it."

On the topic of NHL pensions and those who played in the Original Six era...

"I don't think any of (the Original Six-era players) can live off the pension. My pension wasn't all that good. But it's certainly better than Ted Lindsay' ands Johnny Bowers, who made about $100 (annually) for every year they played (Napier's pension allows for $1000 (annually) for every year played)."

Looking to the future...

"Hopefully this alumni game will be around for another 50, 60, 70 years. This game has a really good chance of benefiting all our membership."

                                       ~                ~                  ~

These discussions couldn't come at a better time. Speculation has the next Winter Classic taking place at Michigan Stadium in Ann Arbor. The contest will feature two Original Six franchises, the Detroit Red Wings and Toronto Maple Leafs.

Speaking with the Windsor Star, Red Wings executive Jim Devellano expressed Detroit's eagerness to host the event. "We applied to put in Comerica Park (home to the Detroit Tigers baseball club, also part of the Ilitch family), but it's a league-driven event. They're going after a world all-time attendance record. It's no surprise that's what the NHL is trying to accomplish."

Since the Red Wings may lose out for their venue being considered for the Winter Classic Game on New Year's Day, there is a consolation prize. This is where the Alumni match comes into play. As the home team organizes the Alumni Game and rakes in the profit, Detroit would be more than happy for the gathering to occur at Comerica.

If any NHL outfit is qualified to properly run this operation, it is the Detroit Red Wings. Mike and Marian Ilitch along with their management team, are perhaps the most pro-alumni owners in the National Hockey League. Add in a massive flock of Leafs fans in Ontario venturing south for the festivities and it is a win-win situation.

Known as the "Big House", the projected attendance at Ann Arbor Stadium for the next Winter Classic Game is 104,174.

Just imagine the spillage for the Winter Classic Alumni Game.